Baking With Dorie Greenspan

Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares.
Oct 21, 2015

Beloved cookbook author Dorie Greenspan ("Baking Chez Moi," "Baking: From My Home To Yours," "Around My French Table" and more) answers your questions about baking, her "Everyday Dorie" column and everything else she's cooking.
This week's column: Preaching the gospel of baking: Fear not, and start with this dessert
This week's recipe: Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares

Hello and thanks for stopping by.

Did you make the Custardy Apple Squares this week?  I did.  But then I always do when it's apple season.

What else did you make?  What was great?  What had a glitch?  What do you want to tell us all about?  Tell away.

Let's talk - Dorie 

How do you make a tender and moist brioche bread?6 have made them in the past and they seem to result in a drier crumb. Thanks.

It's hard to say why your brioche has a dry crumb, since I don't know the recipe you're using (even then I might not be able to suss it out).

What makes brioche so wonderful is lots of eggs and lots and lots of butter.  The dough should be very rich and it needs to be beaten like mad before it's set to rise and rest (in the fridge overnight).  If you've got a good recipe, if you're adding the butter a little at a time and if you're beating almost endlessly, then the only other thing that I can think of is perhaps you're baking your loaf in too hot an oven and/or for too long.

Brioche is such a wonderful bread that it's worth figuring out how to make a great one.  Let me know what you come up with.

Hi! My problem is my dough ! I always make it myself for my apple or pear tart, french style. But somehow the dough is not always good, mostly too dry. I use just flower, salt, baking powder, a little ice cold water and butter. I try not to work it too much (I do not use a blender just by hands). Any secret ingredients or move to make it more delicious everytime ? Did I mention I love you ? :)

Awww, thank you - I'm glad you mentioned it :)

I've never used baking powder in my tart dough - although I know many bakers who do and love it - but it might be part of the reason that your dough is dry; it can have that effect on baked stuff.  

With dough, wetter is better than drier, so you might want to add a little more water to your mix.  

I don't know your recipe, so I don't the proportion of flour to butter - I use 1 1/2 cups flour (204 gr) and 9 tablespoons (128 gr) of butter - but you might not have enough butter.

The only other thing that I can think of is that you're not blending the butter into the flour well enough. 

Like you, I love making dough by hand, but I find that the food processor is more reliable than I am.  I use frozen or really cold butter and ice water and the dough is extremely easy to work.

Thanks again.

Dorie - I love, love, love all of your cookbooks, but I've become so used to weighing my ingredients that I find Baking with Julie and Around my French Table a bit cumbersome to use because they use volume measurements. Are there any plans to re-publish them with weight measures? I'd be first in line to buy updated versions!

Oh, I love weight measures too, but it's unlikely that my earlier books will be republished with weights -- I don't think this is something the publisher will be doing in the near future.  Sorry, sorry.

Here's what I do because, like you, I love to use weights: I have a master chart of the cup to weight equivalents of the ingredients I use all the time and I refer to it when I've got a weightless book.

It doesn't take that long to start a chart and I find it a great help.

I love the flavor and texture that I get from adding lard to the butter in my pie crust. (I use high quality leaf lard and add about 1/3 cup of lard to 2/3 cup butter for a double crust.) But I find that the crust has trouble keeping its shape—it sinks low in the pan and puffs out too. It doesn't look pretty—though it sure tastes great. I've tried chilling the dough and the crust prior to baking, but nothing seems to help. Am I doing something wrong or is this just what happens when you add lard?

I don't know much about lard crusts - anybody out there have experience? - but I have had the problem you're describing with all-butter crusts.

In my case, I had too much butter or, put another way, not enough flour in the mix.

You might already be doing this, but here are two things that might help:

Freeze the put-together pie before putting it in the oven.

Start the pie in a hot oven - I usually start a double-crust pie in a 425 degree F oven, but you might even preheat your oven to 450, turn it down to 425 when the pie goes in and then, after 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 375 and bake on.  With luck the heat will set the crust before it has time to sag.

Let me know how it goes.

Do you have any suggestions for more apple recipes? We have a tree full. I'm making apple sauce, apple butter, and Marie Helen's Apple Cake. I need to use more of those apples. Please help?!

How lucky you are to have a tree full of apples!

Have you tried this week's Everyday Dorie recipe - Custardy Apple Squares? So good.

Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares

You could make a few double-crusted apple pies and put them in the freezer unbaked - bake them a couple of months from now and you'll be so happy.

I love Baked Apples, do you?  I've got a nice recipe in Around My French Table (same book that has Marie-Helene's Apple Cake).

Apple Bundt Cake? (Try the double-apple bundt - it uses apple butter and apples - from Baking From My Home to Yours)

Also, it won't use many apples, but how about the Sheet Pan Supper from a couple of weeks ago?

Dorie Greenspan's Sheet Pan Chicken With Apples and Kale

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan's Sheet Pan Chicken With Apples and Kale

Think savory as well as sweet and enjoy!

hi Dorie! I'm a chef and cater a lot of cocktail parties and people often request desserts. What are some desserts that you'd reccomend making ahead? Thank you! PS, I just opened a storefront in Old Saybrook; come visit me! :)

Congratulations on your storefront - please tell me where it is in Old Saybrook, CT 

So many desserts can be made ahead - it's one of the nice things about dessert:) 

Here are a few things that could be nice:

Mousse

Almost any kind of brownie - you can make, freeze and defrost at party time

Same make-freeze-defrost routine for cookies, and who doesn't love cookies?

Panna Cotta can be made ahead and I've never seen a panna cotta that isn't pretty

I always think of cream puffs as a secret weapon because you can make and spoon out, pipe or scoop the dough, freeze it unbaked and baked it when you need it.  The same goes for gougères - cheese puffs.

Looks delicious...but I do not understand how slicing an apple 1/16th inch thick with a knife removes the apple core. Does not the core need to be cut/removed from each slice manually?

Start with a whole apple, stand it up and slice one side until you get close to the core, turn the apple (about 90 degrees) and slice that side, turn again, slice, and then turn and slice the last side.  You'll be left with a rectangular piece of core and a heap of apples.

I hope you enjoy the squares.

I only bake a cake once a year or so. No matter how much I pull that lever I can never get out all the flour. I wrap it tight but invariable when I pull it out it has moth larva or remains. So I toss it and get another. Do you wash a sifter with soap and water each time? How do you keep it from being a paste mess? I can't even get to all those nooks and crannies. sorry years of frustration coming out

I don't sift as much as I used to.  I've found that for most recipes, it's fine to just whisk the ingredients together.  And, when I do have to sift, I use a strainer, which is much easier to clean.

Sifting can be tedious, I know - I feel your pain.

Hi, I use your recipe for sweet tart dough a lot. Problem is, the upstanding parts always sink in during baking. I use split beans to blind bake, but they keep falling down. Do you know the solution for this?

Oh, the problem of the shrinking crust - it's so frustrating

I'm sure you're doing this, but just in case - make sure your dough is thoroughly chilled -- and relaxed -- before you put it into the oven.

Actually, even before that, make sure you're using cold butter  to make the dough - if you're rolling it directly from the processor, it should still feel cold.

Sometimes shrinkage has to do with how the tart was fitted into the crust.  The dough should be cold when you fit it into the pan and, most important, you don't want to stretch it.  Fit the dough in giving it a little slack at the point where the bottom and sides of the pan meet.  And, to be on the safe side, leave some dough above the rim of the pan.  And remember, anything that you stretch when you fit the dough, will shrink when you bake it.

Finally, check that your oven temperature is correct (use a thermometer) and make sure that it's fully pre-heated before you slide the tart shell in.  

There's a huge price difference among flour brands. What's the difference? Does it matter?

In today's Free-Range chat, D.C. pastry chef Alex Levin said that he uses King Arthur Flour because KA "uses the best quality wheat and has the best quality glutenin and giladin - the two amino acids that mix with water to form gluten."

The two flours that I use most often are King Arthur and Hecker's - they're consistent and, while this doesn't have to do with baking per se, because they are popular brands, they are always fresh.  Yes, flour can get stale.  

Have you seen the British baking show competition on PBS? I'm not a baker but I love the show. I would like to hear how a real baker would critique the show, like having a NASA scientist explain the plot holes in the movie, "The Martian." Thanks.

Just Sunday, friends, bakers and non-bakers, were talking about how much they love the show!  I don't get to watch it so, sadly, I can't be your expert critic.

After you mentioned the custardy apple squares in a chat several weeks ago, I've been making them, and variations on them, a lot. (I like to slice the apples with the thin slicer of a food processor.) My favorite variation has been one I made a little less sweet for breakfast -- I replaced the 1/3 c. sugar with 3 T. maple syrup and kept all the rest the same. I've had trouble going back to the original after that...

Maple syrup with the Custardy Apple Squares sounds perfect! I'm so happy you're enjoying the recipe and I love that you've made it several times.

Muffins are a quick & easy breakfast/snacks. Besides banana and pumpkin muffins what others would you suggest that are kid friendly? I don't think they would go for zucchini, carrot, millet, spelt, etc.

If your kids like dried fruit, then they just might like carrot, millet or spelt muffins :)  A little fruit can go a long way to making a good-for-you muffin fun to eat.

Have you tried corn muffins for the kids?  They're among my favorites.

I did make these and they were awesome and easy! Next time I plan to add some cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Next time I also plan to not leave them on the counter- the dog pulled the dish down and I came home to my apartment covered in broken glass and blood.

Oh dear!  Sorry about the dog and the glass and the blood - ugh.

But I'm happy that you liked the Custardy Apple Squares. I think you'll like them with a little cinnamon and nutmeg - enjoy!

When should shortbread-type cookies come out of the freezer to be served Saturday night for dessert. And/or, if they are baked tonight, can they just be in the fridge? Is the answer different if the cookie recipe has very little fat?

I usually pull cookies out of the freezer just a few hours before I'm ready to serve them and I defrost them in their wrappers.

I very rarely refrigerate cookies, unless they're frosted with ganache or something similar, because the fridge dries out cookies.  Refrigerated cookies often seem stale even when they're not very old.

If you make your shortbread cookies tonight, they should be fine on Saturday, but of course you can freeze them.  If you make them today, wrap them airtight.

Butter-rich cookies like shortbreads keep better and longer than lower-fat cookies, although both are good candidates for the freezer.

My oven is broken. I have a lot of apples in the house from a recent apple-picking trip, and was really looking forward to making pie-- but now that's out of the picture. What apple desserts can I make without an oven?

Poor you!

Until your oven is fixed, you can make apple sauce and apple butter on top of the stove.  You can add apples to salads and slaws.  But if you're frustrated because you were hoping to make pies, fret not:  

You can make the filling for your apple pies and freeze it.  Line a pie dish with plastic wrap or foil.  Make your filling, put it int the lined pan and freeze.  When it's solid, wrap it airtight and freeze.  When you're oven's 'better', make the crust, slip in the filling and bake away.

As usual, this has been great.  

It's also my last chat until around mid-November - I'm off to Asia and I won't have easy access to the internet.  The time difference will also be plenty problematic.

But don't stop asking your questions and I won't stop answering them.

Until our chat resumes, you can send questions for me to the Food section at food@washpost.com.

I'm crazy excited about this trip and will be posting pictures on Instagram (@doriegreenspan), Facebook (doriegreenspan) and, with luck, my blog (doriegreenspan.com)

I'll be back with stories and new recipes. Until then, please send your questions, keep in touch and, most important:

Cook, share, enjoy! xoDorie 

In This Chat
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan is the award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, the most recent of which is "Baking Chez Moi." Read more on her Web site, doriegreenspan.com, and follow her on Twitter: @doriegreenspan.
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